The international landscape for languages, linguistics and area studies is changing rapidly. Globalisation is accelerating, but is increasingly counterbalanced by local and regional particularisms. Mobility and trade, together with technological advances, have increased the diversity of languages and cultures in contact in every country and city in the world. But they are also powering the emergence of wide ranging lingua francas, of which English is particularly dominant in business, science and entertainment.
At the same time, the gap is widening between monolingual and multilingual citizens. Those who are fluent and literate in two or more languages can benefit from most of the professional and personal opportunities the world can offer. But those who speak only their mother tongue are limited in their opportunities, especially if they are among the 25% of EU citizens who are not literate in any language.
These contradictions are being sharpened by an economic crisis that is widening social cleavages. As a result, linguistic and cultural differences are increasingly being transformed into political antagonisms. This poses very real challenges to our disciplinary areas. Although they are at the ‘soft’ end of the field of knowledge, language and culture are deeply rooted. We understand that they are often intractable and highly resistant to change, but that they can also be the motor of seismic shifts in economics, politics and society.
We are accustomed to mobilising the expertise we have in teaching and research in language and culture, and directing it towards educating our students who will be the future leaders. However, the time scales of change are ever shorter, and the public needs are ever greater. As a result, we must now face the challenge of bringing our knowledge and understanding to the wider community. LLAS is committed to assisting the academic community in this endeavour, and thereby making our contribution to creating a more humane world in which the values of linguistic and cultural enrichment for all can flourish.
Prof. Michael Kelly
Director of LLAS Centre for languages, linguistics and area studies